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Latest Sandy Debate on House Floor May Frustrate Conservatives

House conservatives are likely to be frustrated this week in the year’s first test of their drive to cut spending, with the chamber on a path to pass a major Superstorm Sandy recovery package.

Fewer than a dozen of the roughly 90 amendments that were offered to the Sandy bill (HR 152) were expected to be allowed to reach the House floor, aides said Monday, as House leaders seek to put behind them the strong criticism leveled at Republicans after the chamber closed out the 112th Congress without addressing the relief package.

After passing $9.7 billion in additional flood insurance last week, the House will take up a new package Tuesday that consists of a $17 billion base bill addressing immediate needs and then an amendment that would provide $33.7 billion more for long-term recovery work. The House may vote on the final plan before Republicans leave for a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., later in the week.

Republicans in the New York and New Jersey delegations have been working for months to line up needed GOP support for the Sandy package, which will draw strong Democratic backing.

Matt Mayer, a visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he expects the House to deliver pretty much what President Barack Obama requested in December, with only perhaps four or five amendments to be considered and then defeated on the floor.

“I don’t see this as anything but a stunning loss for the conservatives fighting wasteful spending,” said Mayer, a former Department of Homeland Security official who studies disaster aid.

Mayer believes GOP House leaders have made a “strategic decision” to move on from a divisive issue within the party as they gear up for bigger budget battles.

The Senate in December passed its ill-fated $60.4 billion Sandy package, but Boehner opted to allow the bill to expire rather than call on House Republicans to vote on a major spending package immediately after the fiscal cliff compromise. Although the nation’s Disaster Relief Fund had roughly $4 billion on hand in December to address immediate needs of people who suffered losses because of Sandy, the decision to delay drew scorn even from Republicans.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, excoriated Boehner for not acting faster on the package, and Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., suggested New Yorkers should not contribute to the GOP because of Congress’ failure to act on Sandy.

Christie said in a statement posted on YouTube Monday that calls for new spending cuts to offset disaster aid shouldn’t stand in the way of needed help. “If they want to make new rules about disasters, well, they picked the wrong state to make the new rules with,” Christie said. “And we’re going to continue to fight as hard as we need to.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., worked closely with enraged New York and New Jersey Republicans to push for swift action on a robust package, as it became clear the Senate bill would expire on Jan. 3. Boehner then made the Sandy bill a top priority for the 113th Congress, and the House on Jan. 4 passed its first Sandy aid measure (HR 41), 354-67. Cleared later that day by the Senate, this raised the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program by $9.7 billion, an increase needed to allow continued payments to some affected homeowners.

Many amendments submitted to the Rules Committee last week were aimed at eliminating or reining in particular programs or demanding spending reductions to offset the emergency needs. Many are likely to fall to procedural hurdles before they can reach the floor, clearing the way for the House to agree to an additional $50 billion in spending.

“It’s been a political nightmare, and I’d think they want to get past it,” said Jim Dyer, a former House Appropriations Committee clerk and staff director and liaison to GOP leadership.

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